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Pictured Above: Tomás Avila, Victor Capellán, Patricia Martínez, Alida Balderra, Lydia Pérez, Norelys Consuegra, Delia Masjoan-Rodríguez, Marta V. Martínez, Mercedes “Betty” Bernal, Juán Pichardo. Photos by Salvatore Mancini • 2001

Nuestras Raíces: An Oral History Project of the Rhode Island Latino Community

The Latino Oral History Project of Rhode Island began in 1991 when I met and recorded the memories of Josefina Rosario who had been co-owner (with her husband, Tony) of Fefa’s Market, the first bodega in Rhode Island. A sweet "hello" turned into what seems like a lifelong hobby as I went about meeting and recording the voices of many other Latino pioneers. Among them were factory workers, community organizers, activists, artists, elected officials, educators and others.

To keep me focused, I pulled up the 1990 Census, where I found that the four largest Latino groups in Rhode Island were listed in this order: The Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians and Guatemalans.

Twenty years later, the Census showed that these four groups were still the largest and fastest-growing in the state, and that the overall growth between 2000 and 2010 of the Hispanic population was significant (44%), compared to the greater population of Rhode Island.

Nuestras Raíces

The Spanish word
“raíces” means “roots” in the English language, and this explains what this project is all about: It is the story of how the seed was planted, watered and formed roots. From the one seed that was planted, many other lives were touched. Once that tree reached a certain maturity level, it then brought new offspring to the world, who germinated, took root, and seeded others. The seed that once was a sapling and then a mature tree has continued to grow, germinate its entire life. Thousands upon thousands of people have made Rhode Island their home, because of one small act.
The story begins with the first Dominican families; the first Colombian mill workers; the first Guatemalan jewelry workers who came to Rhode Island. It is about the first Hispanic physician to open a health clinic on Broad Street; the first Latino students who enrolled in the public schools; and the first Hispanic police officer in the state.

But really, the most important observation I discovered through this project is that prior to the mid-1950s, there is
no evidence of significant numbers of Latinos anywhere in the state of Rhode Island!

Another significant observation as I set out to do this project, is how relatively easy it was to find individuals who came to Rhode Island from Latin-America in those "early years." That was mainly, as I discovered, because Latinos began arriving and settling here as recently as the 1950s. To many, that is a historical timeframe that is totally reachable.

Today, there are hundreds of Latinos living in Rhode Island with vivid memories of their first arrival to this state during those early years, many of whom seem happy to share their stories as I continue this project.

Would you like to add your story to this collection? Fill out the
online form and I'll contact you right away.

- Marta V. Martínez
Independent Oral Historian
Nuestras Raices, Project Director